What’s Next in Cable Broadband?

By: Colin Howlett, Chief Technology Officer
February 08, 2024

Early each year, I connect with operators, vendor colleagues, and the Vecima team to validate the direction of our industry. Key points from my recent discussions follow: 

Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Transition  

Cable broadband is increasingly moving to fiber, connecting more homes and businesses directly with FTTH PON architectures. Barriers, such as IP video service readiness, investment return on fiber buildouts, and the lack of ability to reach customers beyond 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) from the hub, are no longer obstacles. IP content delivery networks, including Vecima’s MediaScale™ portfolio and Entra® SF-4X remote OLT solutions, and government funding for fiber deployments, have helped the industry overcome historical challenges.  

Many operators have integrated their FTTH rollouts with their existing hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) back-office operations by using DOCSIS® provisioning over 10G-EPON (DPoE). CableLabs’ research has prompted the industry to bring the successful mix of back-office integration and OLT-ONU interoperability to ITU PON standards as we look toward a future beyond 10G.   

What lies ahead is unclear. Early hero tests show the potential of 50G PON from operators around the world, significant industry standards work for 100G coherent PON, and the possibility of an intermediate 25G. We believe PON’s future in cable is based on wide industry interoperability and virtualization to disaggregate traditional big-iron network chassis. The continued movement to disaggregated PON architectures with virtualized management and widely distributed edge OLTs allows operators to transition from existing deployments to whatever they choose to deploy next. 

 Long Live DOCSIS  

While fiber is certainly the future, we can’t and won’t overbuild our HFC plants until well into the next decade or beyond. DOCSIS will remain the primary way to serve cable broadband customers for years to come. Meanwhile, industry innovation will continue. 

The transition to distributed access architectures (DAA) is well underway, as is scaling this out to cover entire networks. Operators will continue deploying R-PHY and R-MACPHY, as their needs dictate.  

One of the major improvements on the horizon is turbocharged DOCSIS, which takes advantage of enhancements in cable modems that are targeted for DOCSIS 4.0. The technology will increase downstream channel counts and allow services of 5 Gbps DS and beyond. What began as an intermediate step to DOCSIS 4.0 that we published in 2022, “Turbocharging DOCSIS 3.1 Technology,” is now widely supported. Industry groups, including cable modem silicon vendors and many vendors of RPD, RMD, integrated CCAP cores, and virtual CMTS, support turbocharged DOCSIS. We anticipate this solution will add needed downstream capacity before a wider shift to true 10G services and multigigabit upstream in DOCSIS 4.0. 

Beyond capacity improvements, work continues to enhance subscriber quality of experience, especially for latency sensitive applications like online gaming and collaboration.  Low Latency DOCSIS enhancements are being integrated into CMTS solutions to reduce latency overall and ensure latency-sensitive traffic is prioritized based on application level of marking such as IETF L4S.   

Meanwhile, DOCSIS 4.0 deployments have begun. We anticipate that more operators will adopt this standard in the coming months as silicon paths have unified across DOCSIS 4.0 options.  Operators have never regretted adding more spectrum. Extending the downstream once again to 1.8 GHz to offer new splits on top of standard DOCSIS 3.1 will allow operators to match downstream capacity growth through the rest of this decade and into the next.   


The deployment of FTTH and HFC offers convergence opportunities for wireline access, particularly when using DPoE and DOCSIS, respectively. Now, we’re focusing on how operators will converge fixed and wireless access as mobile subscribers increase, Wi-Fi and CBRS offload from macrocell mobile increases, and operators move more subscriber and device functionality to 5G cores within their networks.  

Convergence of fixed and mobile services, service provisioning, and their treatment with billing and operational support systems will be increasingly important to cable operators. The shift to virtualization and disaggregation is well underway across FTTH, HFC, and mobile. We’ll take advantage of that shift to realize closer integration and observability of these technologies. Thanks to the efforts of CableLabs, the Broadband Forum, and 3GPP, we’ll see new platforms and architectures. 

A Promising Future 

I’m highly encouraged by the new technologies and significant efforts that are driving cable broadband forward. Cable has been successful, thanks largely to our highly open and collaborative ecosystem. At Vecima, we’re doing our part to nurture and maintain that environment with innovative and interoperable solutions that simplify network evolution. We look forward to a bright future! 

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